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The case of the cop’s girlfriend getting soaked by a hydrant begins in federal court

Updated: November 11, 2012 6:25AM

Opening a fire hydrant is a traditional — if illegal — way to cool off on a sweltering Chicago summer night.

But not everyone likes to get wet.

And when a group of young men soaked a police officer’s girlfriend as she drove past an open hydrant in the Brighton Park neighborhood back on June 25, 2009, it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose.

Now Officer Jose Estrada and three fellow Chicago cops are in federal court, fighting a civil rights lawsuit that alleges that hours later they illegally forced their way into the home of the man they blamed for getting 23-year-old Leah Roman wet.

After a distressed Roman called Estrada for help, the officers went to Heriberto Godinez Jr.’s home, shoved his mother to the floor, hurt his father as he recovered from surgery, threatened to shoot the family dog and held a gun to his brother’s head, lawyers for Godinez’s family alleged in court as what’s expected to be a week-long jury trial began Tuesday.

But what attorney Jeffrey Granich mockingly called a “fire hydrant caper” that didn’t need such an aggressive response, lawyers for the officers and the City of Chicago say was simply a case of cops doing their job.

They say Estrada and his fellow officers didn’t need a warrant to search the home in the 3100 block of West 40th Street because Estrada was in “hot pursuit” of Heriberto Godinez Jr., arguing that Godinez’s mother Ofelia fell after Estrada “shrugged her off” as she tried to stop him from making the arrest.

The stage for the federal trial was set more than two years ago, when a Cook County judge acquitted Godinez Jr., 20, of committing an assault when he allegedly soaked Roman. Godinez’s mother, 50, and his brother, Juan, 18, were also acquitted of any wrongdoing in the fracas that followed.

On the stand Tuesday, Ofelia Godinez broke down in tears, describing her shame at being arrested and claiming Estrada had shouted that she was “a stupid old lady that didn’t know how to educate her children.” Estrada wouldn’t tell her what he was doing in her home, she said, denying that her son had run from the officer.

But Estrada testified that his girlfriend was in tears after she and her car were drenched at the corner of 38th and Kedzie.

He said he was not aware of the rule against investigating cases where the victim is a close associate, acknowledged that he did not tell his supervisors that he was going to Godinez’s home to make an arrest without a warrant, and said he had never sought or even seen an arrest warrant in his eight years on the job.

Attorney Tom Leinenweber, representing Estrada, codefendants officers J.J. Verble, R. Gallas and R.B. Campbell and the city, pressed Judge Joan Lefkow to allow the jury to hear references to Godinez Jr.’s gang tattoos when the trial continues Wednesday — saying it shows the environment the officers were working in.

Lefkow denied the request, saying it was irrelevant to the case, but warned Granich she would overturn the ruling if he continued to question how Roman identified Godinez as the man who soaked her.

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